Who has the bolder vision?

Now that we have more details of Montgomery County’s 12-point Municipal Consolidation and Efficiency Plan, it’s becoming increasingly clear how bold the vision is in Montgomery County compared to Fulton County’s state-mandated Countywide Shared Services Initiative.

Montgomery County was chosen to be one of six municipalities in New York state that is competing to create the best local government consolidation and efficiency plan, with the prize being a $20 million grant. One of the requirements of the contest is that the consolidation plans include at least one dissolution of a government agency.

County Executive Matt Ossenfort says his county’s plan includes at least three, the potential combination of the town and village of Canajoharie, the dissolution of the Fort Plain Police Department and a study to look at the feasibility of combining the town of Minden with the village of Fort Plain. The plan includes other bold initiatives like creating a joint municipal center and courthouse at the site of the old Beech-Nut facility in Canajoharie, as well as a plan to digitize government documents, a plan to create countywide assessment and a plan to study wastewater treatment options in the western part of the county.

Conversely, Fulton County’s Shared Services Panel is currently discussing whether to include “contract assessment” as the lynchpin, and perhaps only proposal, of the tax savings plan it submits to New York state as part of the state-mandated Countywide Shared Services Initiative. Contract assessment would provide assessment services local municipalities could hire from Fulton County on a fee-for-service basis, avoiding another attempt at asking voters to approve countywide assessing, which has already failed in two prior referendums.

Fulton County officials argue that the shared services initiative, mandated for all counties in the 2018 state budget, is different from the $20 million contest Montgomery County was selected to participate in, and they’re correct about that, although Ossenfort has said his county is going to essentially submit its 12-point plan for both state programs.

We wonder why it is that Montgomery County seems to be so willing to discuss major reforms of its local governments, while Fulton County seems to be unwilling to do so in any meaningful way. Ossenfort has suggested that the unity in his county comes in part from that fact that its County Executive/Legislature model of government has one elected official who represents all of the people of Montgomery County. Ossenfort has the popular mandate of the public to show leadership and advocate for change in a way that no official in Fulton County does.

Fulton County Administrator Jon Stead, who has made bold suggestions at times in the past like the creation of a countywide police and fire department, is an appointed official who serves at the pleasure of the Board of Supervisors. Stead doesn’t create policy — he can only advise his Board and execute its wishes.

Stead did tell us something interesting at the most recent meeting of the Fulton County Shared Services Panel on Monday. He said New York state has allowed counties to delay their shared services plan until next year, instead of getting it done and submitting it in October. If contract assessment, and some forward-looking suggestions about studying police consolidation and other items, is the best Fulton County can come up with this year, they should delay their shared services plan and come up with a bolder, more aggressive approach next year.

By Patricia Older

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